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ASEAN ANALYSIS

                                                                                                                           Asean Affairs  31 January 2013  

A Republic comes of age

By Swarup Roy in Bangkok, Thailand. 29 January 2013

63 years of the INDIAN REPUBLIC. A billion dreams may finally be coming true.

Eye on India from Asean.

India recently celebrated the anniversary of sixty three years as a modern republic. The modern, confident, assertive India was very visible recently in Bangkok at the Republic Day celebrations and fashion extravaganza held at the Plaza Athenee hotel on the evening of 25 January 2013 attended by almost one thousand distinguished guests from Thailand.

Former Foreign minister of India, K Natwar Singh was also present at the R-Day reception. I remarked that the Ambassador to Thailand, Mr. Anil Wadhwa and his team at the Indian embassy has made us, Indians living abroad, very proud by their tremendous work especially in the last one year. With a proud smile, Natwar Singh a distinguished former Foreign Service diplomat said ‘we send you our very best’.



Former Indian Foreign Minister, K Natwar Singh (centre) and to his left is Mr. Anil Wadhwa, India's Ambassador to Thailand. Mr. Prashant Agrawal (extreme left), Deputy Chief of Mission, next to him is Mr. Swarup Roy, Founder of AseanAffairs and Mr. Rajesh Swami (extreme right), first secretary (political) of the Indian Embassy Bangkok at the Republic Day function and fashion extravaganza at Plaza Athenee hotel, Bangkok, 25 Jan 2013


This was the best, biggest and the most elaborate R-Day reception that I have seen in the last twelve years in Bangkok. It was a display of the modern, confident and assertive India. In the last ninety days alone on the eve of the twenty years commemoration of the Asean-India dialogue, Ambassador Wadhwa has rolled out an unprecedented number of events projecting Indian soft and hard power as never before. To many it was a pleasant surprise to see the series of activities rolled out relentlessly one after another showcasing ancient and modern India simultaneously culminating in the R-Day reception in Bangkok and prior to that the high profile summit in New Delhi on 21 December 2012 with the heads of government of the ten Asean member nations and the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh adopting the Asean-India Vision Statement.


   Indian models on the catwalk at the R-Day function in Bangkok, 25 Jan 2013

 

For the first time in my life, I have begun to feel that the India of our dreams may not be far away.  We Indians have always been critical of our government and bureaucracy and continue to be so as citizens of a republic, it is our right to hold our government accountable to their promises. But for some time now, there have been signs of a subtle change. The men and women of our civil service and the Foreign Service have begun to demonstrate a missionary zeal and vigour of purpose not seen before. Gone are the days when one could expect a response from the embassy only after a month, if at all. Ambassador Wadhwa replies to emails on his blackberry, sends sms updates and invitations on social media. I keep joking with many of the officers in the Indian Embassy when I find them working late on Saturdays and even Sundays that they are now giving us in the private sector a run for our money. This sincere commitment and efforts are beginning to have an impact and I may have to finally salute them and my father who served all his life in the Indian government, the Indian Air Force.

Twenty plus years ago as a young M.B.A. embarking on my executive career in the corporate world in India I firmly believed that the private sector was the panacea for all our problems of backwardness and under development at least that is what l lectured my father on. The dynamic executives of the private sector were the people who knew how to get things done efficiently and honestly. But today after having served in top notch companies in India and abroad and becoming an entrepreneur, my belief in that panacea is no longer as firm.

One of the most revered gurus of management and one of my personal icons Tom Peters with whom I had the fortune of partnering in his event in 2004 in Bangkok, wrote in the preface to his 2004 book ‘Re-Imagine’ that he was so ashamed of his M.B.A. degree on finding out that his Professor of Accounting was the Chairman of the Audit Committee of Enron (when that company collapsed on account of its financial corruption) he wrote to the Dean of Stanford University informing him that he wanted to return back his M.B.A. to his alma mater.

That’s the full circle I have come in my belief system in two decades.

Enron was small potatoes compared to what was to follow in the last decade, scandals upon scandals on Wall Street culminating in that other revered guru of management Rajat Gupta of McKinsey fame going to prison for insider trading. The greed, arrogance and corruption of the private sector left the global economy in shambles and tens of millions of lives utterly ruined, global growth went on a downward spiral and into recession, and millions upon millions of people were left jobless and desperate.

India the modern Republic on the surface continued to be chaotic as ever albeit for a time there was a ‘Shining India’ in the beginning of the millennium to being the darling of Davos at the World Economic Forums and then at the beginning of the new decade in 2011 the chaos was back when corruption scandals started tumbling out one after another, the battle of FDI in retail erupted on the streets of India and 2012 ended on a gruesome note with the horrific gang rape and murder of a young female medical student on a moving New Delhi bus. India was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons again.

Yet I have never felt this hopeful and proud of India anytime in my life before.

Perhaps because of the reason that in all this chaos and noise I can now see the signs of the 12,000 year old Indian civilization omnipresent and calmly re-assuring those of us who can sense that presence, that all this tumult is akin to the ‘samudra manthan’ (churning of the ocean) by the asuras and devas  (demons and gods) in our ancient mythology. The myth tells us that before the nectar of life can be found, all that is undesirable will first come to the surface and it will take a Lord Shiva to gulp the poison that can otherwise snuff the life out of both demons and gods. One can see a beautiful and elaborate depiction of the ‘samudra manthan’ at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi international airport. The magnificent Angor Vat temples in Cambodia, the 11th century Borobudur temples in Yogyakarta (Indonesia), five thousand Sanskrit words in the Thai language, one of the most important street junctions in Bangkok called ‘Asok’, ‘Ayuthaya’ a city 200 km from Bangkok was the ancient capital of Siam (Thailand), the ‘Garuda’ is the name of Indonesia’s flag carrier has been reminding me that perhaps answers to many of our questions are to be found in the age old wisdom of the Indian civilization and gives rise to the hope that the answers to the questions of  today’s India and future are just a grasp away, all around us, omnipresent.


 (Left) The 11th century Borobudur Hindu Temples, Yoyakarta (Indonesia). (Rt) The National Emblem of Thailand, the ‘Garuda’ adopted by King Vajiravudh (Rama VI) in 1911.


The rise of young India and its discontent and contempt for the status quo spilling into the streets of India recently, the popular movement against corruption, the daily TV shows questioning every move of the government, the demand for immediate legislation on burning issues including on hitherto taboo subjects such as marital rape and the washing of dirty linen in public in the world’s largest democracy can only give rise to a sense and feeling of hope that this churning has to throw up sooner or later the nectar we all have been waiting for.


 
 
INS Sudarshini on its Asean voyage sailing into Bangkok harbor on 18 Jan 2013
 

So as the Indian naval ship Sudarshini sailed into Bangkok harbour on the 18th January on its maiden Asean voyage tracing the ancient sea trade route that flourished once upon a time between India and SE Asia, and as thirty one Mahindra & Mahindra SUV’s snaked their way in December 2012 across ten countries of Asean as part of the Asean-India car rally into India, and as famous Indian author Amitav Ghosh narrated the India connection to Indo China at the Indian Food Festival in Bangkok on 30 November, as celebrated film maker Prakash Jha explained to me his take on modern India just before the screening of his latest film ‘Chakrvyuh’ in Bangkok on 21 November,  one couldn’t but see the immense contribution of India to Asia and the world. After all 63 years in 12,000 years is but just a drop in the ocean and just as the pendulum swings back, the India of our dreams is chaotically but surely taking shape right in front of us.


 
(L) Ambassador Wadhwa at the press conference on board the ship.   (Rt) Asean India car rally passing through Bangkok

China-India-Asean, or as I have coined it, C.I.A.-the new world order will soon be upon us. Within a radius of five to six hours flying time is a geographical, historical and cultural compact of twelve nations with a population of 3.1 billion people, almost half the world’s population. Few people know that for the first 1800 years of the last two millennia, India and China were the world’s biggest economies contributing almost forty five per cent of the world GDP. The last two hundred years brought the dragon and the tiger to their knees down to a meagre 4.54 per cent of the global GDP, the lowest ever in 1990. Yet in the last two decades since, China, India and the ten countries of Asean or C.I.A. have zoomed to twenty two per cent contribution of the global economy. With the downward spiral of the EU and US, this ratio of the C.I.A. group will only rise and rise to almost 50 per cent of global GDP in the not too distant future is what I foresee.

I believe, a trillion dollar trade relationship between two countries with 2.5 billion people (India and China) which is currently at a measly $60b will alter all geo political equations dramatically. The jingoism around China and India’s historic relationship and potential current rivalry suits everybody except the people of these two giant neighbours. And the route may well pass through Asean and Bangkok as the neutral meeting place and melting pot of ideas between Indian and Chinese businessmen who are actually very keen to work towards a vibrant Sino Indian trade and business relationship. And that will augur well for Thailand and all the Asean countries for just as the rising tide lifts all boats in the harbour, big or small, so shall all the twelve nations in this compact radius benefit immensely.

China Asean ties have been on the upswing for all of the last decade reaching almost $300b in trade. The India-Asean relationship has been lagging but with the gusto 2012 provided to the ties, $200b trade looks quite achievable by 2020, at least that is the target set by the governments. So if you start adding, the C.I.A. trade maybe touching the trillion dollars mark by 2020. How long you think it would take for China and India to reach that mark in bilateral trade? Perhaps, sooner than we think. That is my hope and dream. The only barrier higher than the Himalayas physically separating the two countries are the Himalayas that separate our minds. The physical Himalayas have been scaled for centuries but it is the mountains in our mind that we have struggled to conquer and Asean may well be the plank to bridge that gap.




(Centre) Ambassador Anil Wadhwa. (L-R) Mr Sumit Mazumdar, Mr. Amarjit Singh Lamba, HE Dr.Nalinee Taveesin, Mrs Vasana Mututanont and Dr Rajeev Singh at the India-Thailand business opportunities seminar on 18 Jan 2013, Bangkok.

Many recent interactions between India and Thailand as well as the 10 ASEAN countries are to increase connectivity and trade. Currently one of the main initiatives for this is the Trilateral Highway project which will connect the Manipur State of India with Thailand’s border, through Myanmar.

Ambassador Anil Wadhwa explained “this is a very important initiative of connectivity between India, Thailand and Myanmar. The Indian government has allocated 500 million dollars to the Myanmar government as a credit line. They will use 100 million dollars to build a section of the trilateral highway.

The Northern part of this highway is being built by Indian companies right now. And they will also build 71 bridges for freight traffic. After that 83 kilometers of the lower section will be completed by the Thai government. This highway will also be a very important gateway for Thailand to the Dawei deep sea Port in Myanmar which is one of the biggest projects slated for development by Thailand.”

He says that these plans will then expand to include more of the ASEAN countries after 2016.

“Eventually the tri-lateral highway will connect up with a number of economic corridors from the West to the East and also to rail corridors from North to South. We then want to expand the trilateral to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia for which MOUs have been signed. Connectivity is extremely important for the whole region to develop and to make sure it uses its potential. Right now many areas are land locked and they can’t export easily hence this is what we want to provide so that it will lift the people out of the relatively less prosperity they now have”, explains the veteran diplomat who speaks fluent Chinese.

The age old dream of the Chinese emperors of finding a hospitable route to India through Indo China is about to become a reality. C.I.A. will at last be connected by road, rail and sea.

Back to back business events in the last sixty days brought two delegations of businesses from India’s North east region to Bangkok to match with potential Thai companies, on 3 December 2012 and 18 January 2013. The very fact that small companies from Assam, Manipur and other small states of India’s NE region have started to dream of spreading their wings beyond their shores shows that the glow from a billion dreams is beginning to reach far and wide.

The Fashion extravaganza at the R-Day reception, a brilliant idea of Ambassador Wadhwa wowed the thousand strong audiences to the point of pin drop silence and rapt attention for over an hour as Indian models displayed ethnic, beautifully crafted Indian creations to standing applause.

When you take one out of one, you are left with nothing. The concept of zero was invented in India and only Indians could have come up with such a concept. This simple idea of nothing never occurred to the materialistic western mind as they continued to use the cumbersome roman numerals for a long time which had no concept of zero. Modern mathematics and the binary system used in modern computing and electronics could not have been invented without zero. It is only perhaps in India where nothing means so much, where throughout the ages the sages have reminded humanity that the true goal of life is to unite with the infinite nothingness, the source of everything, the infinite potential. India has contributed to the world from this source of nothingness forever. One hopes the Republic can also draw infinitely from this source.

A billion dreams may finally be coming true and the Republic coming of age.

Mr. Swarup Roy has over 20 years of business and management experience. From 1993-2000, he served in the management of 3 top Indian companies, Shaw Wallace, Marico Industries and Parrys Group as Area Manager in Madhya Pradesh, North East India and as Regional Manager for the entire eastern region covering 11 states.

Based in Bangkok for the last 12 years, from 2002 to 2006, Mr. Roy was President & CEO of Thailand’s only English business daily newspaper, Business Day. In 2006 he launched AseanAffairs- the only media publication dedicated to SE Asia. Recently he registered AseanAffairs as a company in India as well. AABC (AseanAffairs Business Council) is the C.I.A. (China-India-Asean) business platform he has also created. www.AseanAffairs.com and www.AABCouncil.com


Links for India story

http://www.aseanaffairs.com/asean_analysis_31_january_2013/63years_of_the_indian_republic_a_billion_dream_may_finally_be_coming_true
 
http://www.aseanaffairs.com/asean_analysis_12_december_2012/cars_culture_cinema_cuisine_commerce_connect

 

http://www.aseanaffairs.com/asean_news/events/india_s_pm_asean_india_connectivity_on_track

 

http://www.aseanaffairs.com/asean_news/trade/huge_gains_in_asean_india_fta

 

http://www.aseanaffairs.com/asean_news/trade/asean_india_fta_negotiations_on_services_investment_in_final_stages

 

http://www.aseanaffairs.com/press_releases/india_asean_ties_come_colser_with_unprecedented_cooperation_connectivities

 

http://www.aseanaffairs.com/asean_news/trade/asean_india_services_pact_runs_into_a_wall



http://www.aseanaffairs.com/press_releases/whef2013_bangkok



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